Court Decision Raises Doubts On Sentencing Guidelines

2004

In Blakely v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Washington state’s sentencing guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment’s right to trial by jury. The Court rules that all evidence used to justify increasing a defendant’s sentence beyond the “prescribed statutory maximum” must be submitted to a jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt. Before this ruling, after a defendant either pleaded guilty or was convicted at a trial, the judge, not the jury, possessed full authority over the sentencing hearings. The Court’s decision invalidates Washington’s sentencing guidelines, those in other states with similar guidelines, and raises doubts about the federal sentencing guidelines as well.